Things You Need For Gel Staining Cabinets
I’ve done quite a few projects using gel stain… my favorite (and biggest) was the kitchen and bathroom cabinets in the first house we flipped.
Even with my gel stain tutorial post, I am still getting questions to this day about what color and brand gel stain I used, what brushes I used to apply the stain, what top coat I used, and what sand paper to use (if any) when I gel stained my kitchen and bathroom cabinets.
So below I’ve neatly listed out all the items one would need to complete a gel staining project. After lots of trial and error, I think I have it down to a pretty concise and complete list.
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What To Use for Gel Staining Cabinets
The Gel Stain
First and foremost, you’ll have to decide on the brand and color of your gel stain. There are tons of different gel stain colors to choose from and tons of different brands that make it. The three major brands most people have heard of are General Finishes, Minwax and Rust-Oleum.
I went with General Finishes (this one to be precise) because I heard nothing but great reviews about the product. And while doing my research prior to starting my first gel staining project, I noticed most other DIY bloggers I trusted used that brand as well! So why not? I went with Antique Walnut but was thhhhhhis close to going with Java gel stain. I think the antique walnut came out pretty dark and was happy with results.
The finished product came out beautiful and the stain was incredibly easy to work with. I’d eventually like to give another brand a try but I’m one of those that once I find something that works great, I stick with it. Have you tried a brand other than General Finishes, let me know in the comments!
My Gel Stain Tips
- I find that the color always comes out a little dark than you think it well, especially when doing multiple coats. So if you’re on the fence between two colors, chose the lighter of the two.
- I tried the “wipe on, wipe off” method and it looked terrible so I wound up doing multiple thin coats – but play around with it!
- Wear gloves!!!
There a couple different options when it comes to applying the gel stain. It can be applied with an old sock or rag, a regular paint brush or foam brushes.
I found that the foam “brushes” worked best, especially for cleaning up any streaks or lines that inevitably appear while applying the stain. I’ve read a lot of reviews where people rave about the sock method (over a gloved hand of course) but I could not get the hang of it and found it so much easier to control the foam brush.
I also like the foam brush method because you can buy them in a variety pack which includes multiple sizes – making it super easy to cover a large cabinet door in a couple swipes as well as get in the small crevices (like where the hinges attach!)
My Gel Stain Brushes Tips:
- Always keep a dry brush nearby for times when you have to soak up excess stain.
- Get a variety pack but stock up on the 1″ or 2″ brushes – I found I used a lot more of those sizes than any other.
- No matter what application method you decide to go with always remember that multiple thin coats are much better than one or two thick ones.
The Top Coat
I wrote a blog post all about what top coat to use once you’ve achieved the desired color and look with the gel stain (you can find that here). But the bottom line is I wanted a durable finish that would stand up to grubby hands all day long and have a slight sheen to it.
I shopped around and did my reserach and decided to go with this top coat, also from General Finishes. It’s a water based top coat which is perfectly fine to use on top of oil based gel stain as long as you let the stain throughly dry (about three days.) I chose a satin finish and absolutely LOVE the finished look!
My Gel Stain Top Coat Tips
- No matter what top coat you go with, make sure to follow the drying times precisely! Otherwise you could have a problem with peeling eventually.
- Look at the finished project from multiple angles and in different lighting, you might notice spots where you didn’t evenly coat and the project may need touch ups.
The Sand Paper
You truly don’t HAVE to sand anything but in my case I had to because the previous stain job was uneven, bubbly and streaky – and I didn’t want people thinking I was the one that made it look that way! I can’t consciously put my name on a project that looked that like so I wound up sanding almost down to bare wood!
Hopefully, you won’t have to sand down to bare wood like I did. However, I still recommend giving the cabinets (or whatever wood project you’re working with) a minimal “buffing” just to ensure the stain has a little extra sticking power. These sanding blocks are perfect for a light buffing, not to mention they are my best friends when it comes time to sand spackle!
- I also bought this sandpaper because I found that if something dried blotchy I could lightly sand it out and cover it up with the next coat!
- You probably know this, but always always always sand with the direction of the wood grain!
I bought these neat little things AFTER I did the huge kitchen and bathroom gel stain project and boy do I wish I had them before! They are painter’s pyramids and they make it incredibly easy to work on cabinet doors! It helps keep the edges of the door exposed so there isn’t any pooling and so the edges get a crisp and clean finish.
The ones I link to above are THE ONES TO GET. Don’t mistakenly get the ones that don’t have a flat part on the bottom through which to fasten it down (like this one). The flat part is also good for a quick tape job for times when you don’t want to nail through it! Because believe me, you’ll come across some other projects that might require you to secure the painter’s pyramids with a little more than the weight of the project itself.
You’re going to need lots of gloves! I tried a number of different gloves and they all wound up ripping or almost falling apart. I’m new to staining so maybe this is normal? Anyway, I would definitely recommend buying at least a few pairs.
Here’s a recap of the things I recommend when doing gel staining projects:
Here’s My List of Items I Purchase for My Own Gel Staining Projects
- This Gel Stain – General Finishes Gel Stain in Antique Walnut
- These Foam Brushes
- This Top Coat
- These Sanding Blocks
- Painter’s Pyramids
- (I also kept a few old socks around while working)
And here’s a picture of one of the bathroom vanities…
And here’s one of the other vanity…
So that’s that! After numerous gel staining projects, I think I’ve come up with ultimate list that will help you from start to finish!
I love doing all kinds of DIY projects and I hope to have more coming soon as we work on our fixer upper. I also have a really cool upcycled wood window project coming at you soon! So stay tuned (and subscribe below) and don’t throw out any old wood windows before you see it!!